"Look at the world around you, I mean really look. Are people happy? Do the financially wealthy appear to be more secure or content than we are?"
Our kids, ten-year-old daughter, Sage, and 23-year-old nephew, Rick, and I were discussing my practice of finding appreciation for the little things in life; a practice that annoys my daughter to no end. This is a prevalent theme in our family, as my husband, Scott and I, navigate life riddled with the ups and downs of my twenty-two years of chronic illness, complete with various doctor visits, medical procedures, treatments, and resulting medical bills, credit card debt, and stress.
Sage was in one of her questioning moods, wondering why we suddenly went on a "money diet" a year ago, and why we sometimes seem stressed about finances when we weren't always. She exclaimed, "Life would be so much easier if you just made more money!"
We don't keep secrets in our home. Scott and I choose to have an equal partnership of conscious awareness and maintain a no-nonsense policy of honesty and openness. We do not play games with each other, we communicate directly, and we expect respect from, and give respect to, each other in all instances. We also readily admit our faults and ask for help to improve them.
This has formed the basis of a life free from arguing; electing, instead, in each moment to act, speak, and treat each other with love. Our respect for each other has determined how we treat our kids. We tell them the truth, although sometimes in simplified terms. We trust them to ask questions, to process, and learn from life's lessons and realities as we live them. We always give them a safe place to voice their frustrations, fears, and anger allowing them to experience truths with our support; entitled to real emotions and deserving of space and time to heal.
...bringing us back to the conversation above.
Sage asked if I thought life would be better if we had more money, so my illness didn't cause us so much stress. I reminded her of my daily gratitude practice and clarified that more money wouldn't make our life better. It might make it easier, but there was a big difference between the two. I explained, by living in the United States, in a house with running water and fresh food, we are already exceeding the relative living conditions of much of the rest of the world's population so it seemed selfish to get overly upset about a little bit (or even a lot) of financial stress.
I emphasized, this is one of the reasons I acknowledge my gratitude every day for all of the things we have, instead of dwelling on the things we don't. In other words, while our finances are not as easy as I would like them to be, we are doing okay, and our life – our family, my marriage, and her childhood – could not be better! This is also not to overlook the obvious that I'd love to be healthy, but again, there is really no point in dwelling on something we cannot change.
Next, I asked her to look at how her daddy and I treat each other. Even in her small world she sees marriages that work and marriages that are strained - children are observant. Does she see her daddy and I always being kind to each other? Do we have each other's best interests at heart? Are we an inseparable team? Are we equals? Do we always operate in love? These are, to me, the marks of a happy, modern life.
My husband and I are a cohesive unit. We put each other, and our kids above everything else. Scott works long hours, and finds the strength in his mind, heart, soul, and body to take care of me physically when my body is in crisis. He is my protector, champion, comfort, best friend, and perfect partner.
And for my part, even with illness, since I am not able to work, I have thrown myself into creating a loving home to nourish the bodies and souls of my family with nutritious meals, unconditional love, laughter, acceptance, and continuous opportunities for spiritual, emotional and physical growth and wellness. I see myself as my family's spiritual backbone, cheerleader, voice of reason, and eternal optimist; and I, too, protect Scott, champion his causes, comfort him, and hope I am his perfect partner.
We challenge each other every day to be better than we were before, never becoming complacent, always accepting each other's idiosyncrasies, while holding each other to higher and higher standards of being-ness, building our best possible life.
We constantly recommit ourselves to each other, our family, and the ways in which we interact. This is why, when we are in the midst of any dilemma whether having to do with health, finances, parenting, or career our relationship is never strained. We may be financially "broke," but our love will never be broken.
We incorporate humor, levity, and grounding into most situations. We strive to show our kids that nothing is impossible to handle, no challenge is insurmountable, and nothing is the end of the world, not even our mistakes, when we face them together. By doing this, we have taught them valuable life lessons, helping them learn to observe, assess, and solve problems as they arise instead of going into a reactive mode, because reacting never leads to a positive result.
Most importantly, we have, through our example of communication and honesty, shown them they can trust us enough to be open about their fears, tribulations, and struggles. They know they don't have to confront situations alone; they are uninhibited in telling us anything, at any time, and will not face consternation or judgment. This is incredibly freeing for them to learn to make their own decisions, and yet still know how to ask for advice without fear!
Our methods are working. We see the result in how our nephew is embarking on full adulthood. He has started a massage therapy practice, is self-motivated, and is using community-driven practices to build an ethical, responsible, and sustainable business. In his personal endeavors he is choosing conscious relationship models, based on love and respect. He surrounds himself with like-minded and supportive people on a similar path of self-improvement and discovery.
He has established clear boundaries, knowing what will serve his highest good, is aware of being such to those around him, and is becoming uncompromisingly clear about only acting congruently with his values. He shows unconditional love and support and wants to leave the world a better place than he found it.
Our daughter is growing up with a globally accepting view exceeding her years. She is an outspoken advocate for kindness to other children. She talks about equality, fairness, and love in ways many adults haven't yet grasped. She has an uncanny way of reading a situation and getting to the heart of it with quick wit and clarity.
She finds it unacceptable to see adults treat each other poorly, and often muses about how the world would be different if it operated from love, like we do at home. When confronted with negative realities of life she expresses discomfort and desire for change. Her questioning mind will not settle for anything less than a full answer and she tries to make decisions from her highest self in most instances. She, too, has a strong work ethic and tackles any project with seriousness beyond her years.
They both live authentically, consciously, and fully.
So what is conscious living? Life is rife with challenges. The question is, where do you want to place your attention? Does it serve your highest purpose to ruminate on the negatives? Or would your perspective, and therefore reality, benefit by focusing on the positives?
We choose to focus on the positives because otherwise we would be in a constant state of chaos and catastrophe due to my health and the financial burdens it has caused. But make no mistake, this isn't the same as putting our heads in the sand. This is merely finding gratitude and directing our attention on what we have rather than what we don't. We have a beautiful family, we have unconditional love, we have a roof over our head, healthful food to eat, clothes to wear, and medical care - in other words all of our needs are being met.
Money is like water, it slips so easily through our fingers and often we don't even see the fruits of the spending. Conscious living means taking the time to truly enjoy moments, not dollars, it means considering the gentle time among loved ones as the valuable currency of life.
I asked Sage to name some of her favorite toys as a young child. She didn't name her jungle gym, walk-in kitchen, or outdoor gazebo; all purchased before our financial worries manifested. Among her most treasured possessions are the dolls that she still plays with, but when pressed further for other remembered toys, she named a ten-dollar, 4' by 4' Dora The Explorer puzzle that we put together hundreds of times, leading to hours of bonding time.
This is the crux of conscious living...possibly the secret of true fulfillment! The world can be complicated and scary, but the simple moments together may be the Holy Grail, the epitome of happiness, the thing for which we are all searching after all, but we've lost sight of it through all the trappings we think we are supposed to pursue. When we stop what we are doing, and allow ourselves to be, when we choose to live honestly and openly with our partners and children and are truly present, the world falls away, worries cease to exist, and family magic happens.